Using an audience response system (ARS) can be a great way to get people engaged with your presentation. Collecting responses can help you make a strong point and give listeners a real reason to pay attention to what you are saying.
But you need to be aware of Murphy’s Law: anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.
Not every audience will give the same answer – that’s a given – but what you might not expect is how often audiences will throw you a complete curveball. There’s nothing that wrecks a presentation like an audience responding in a way that makes your next point seem laughable because it’s completely at odds with the stats in front of you.
Have a plan
You need to expect the unexpected and plan for every eventuality. You can mitigate the chance of being wrong-footed by an unusual response with the right phrasing of the question and answers. Make sure that your question is clear and that there can be no misapprehension on the part of the listeners.
Remember that just because it makes sense to you doesn’t mean it makes sense to the audience – test your questions on colleagues or family beforehand to ensure the phrasing is clear.
But you can do all of this and still find yourself in an awkward position. So if you do find that the audience has given an unexpected answer to your question you’ll need to be prepared for that too.
Think about each the scenario beforehand and have a plan for how you can play it to your advantage. At the very least have a joke prepared to ensure you can continue in your stride.
Perhaps one of the hardest things to deal with is if there is no consensus from the audience – in this case you’ll need to talk through the different options and bring the argument together. You can never assume that you know what the response is going to be in any specific poll so you instead you need to have a different direction you can move in no matter the outcome.
On the other hand, if you’re using an ARS to make a point and you need a specific answer then you will need to lead your audience into it. Don’t just open with your question and hope your audience will respond in the way you are hoping for – talk about the subject for a minute and give them a reason to respond the way you want them to.